Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Urban Agriculture and Accessibility

CGEE Student Voice
Food and Society
Saint Paul
Maren Grunnet

Community gardening is a powerful way to create positive impacts on yourself and your community. The health benefits (mental, social, and physical) of community gardening are numerous and should be accessible to everyone. The ability to care for others is a basic right and a radical act as outlined in Johanna Hedva’s Sick Woman Theory which has many applications to urban agriculture. Here in the Twin Cities we can see many moves in urban agriculture towards accessibility for all kinds of Sick Women, and many garden taking on philosophies of care and sovereignty.
Johanna Hedva, artist and activist, gave a lecture titled My Body Is a Prison of Pain so I Want to Leave It Like a Mystic But I Also Love It & Want It to Matter Politically on October 7, 2015. This lecture was later adapted into an essay, Sick Woman Theory. The central idea of Sick Woman Theory is that people and their bodies are always vulnerable, and defined by this vulnerability. Social institutions of oppression can cause physical damage, as Johanna writes, “It is that all of our bodies and minds carry the historical trauma of this, that it is the world itself that is making and keeping us sick.” Caring for yourself and others becomes a radical act when our capitalist society is constantly seeking to profit off of our unwellness. Sick Woman Theory challenges Sick Women, anyone living with chronic illness, oppression, trauma, and mental and physical disabilities, to value their existence and care for themselves. It challenges everyone to care for themselves and those around them to challenge our society’s current institutions.

Urban agriculture, in many ways, is more accessible than traditional agriculture. By location and often price, fresh food is made possible to acquire for more people. Participation in agriculture and community is made easier by creating gardens across neighborhoods and with missions of inclusivity. Many gardens hold programs to include children, seniors, and those of diverse cultures. Gardens can serve as spaces to include diet traditions not supported by the American food system. They can also provide income to those who are underemployed for reasons such as disability and country of origin.

However, there are some ways that urban agriculture can be exclusionary. On small plots of land, the majority of the work is done by hand. This requires physical endurance, the ability to stay outdoors moving for an extended period of time, and to be able to lower to the ground and get back up. Neuroatypical people may find the community atmosphere overwhelming or the bustle of activity on urban gardens overstimulating. Those with chronic illness and fatigue can also find participating in community gardens difficult, as they require consistent care throughout the season. Participating in a supportive way may also be difficult, as farmers’ markets can be crowded and inaccessible for many. Farmers also typically sell produce whole, which can pose a barrier for individuals unable to cut their own fruits and vegetables.
There are many ways around these barriers to urban agriculture. To solve the problem of accessibility for those in wheelchairs or unable to lower themselves to the ground, urban gardens can build a variety of accessible height raised beds. A very affordable solution is to create sack planters, by filling large canvas bags with soil to an accessible height. Making sure that rows are wide enough to accomodate wheelchairs is also important. Having tools that are a variety of heights and weights, as well as educational resources on gardening available in a wide-range of formats and languages can make gardening accessible to people with a variety of abilities and backgrounds.
Chronic fatigue and illness are also areas where gardens can be made an area of healing and accessibility with some easy changes. Those with chronic conditions are often discouraged from making long-term commitments, such as a garden plot, because of the uncertainty of their abilities. Community gardens can work to support and include these people by having options for split work and collaboration. They could include programs to find people to match up to share the work on garden plots, or have volunteers able to cover the work of those who ask.
Among Twin Cities urban agriculture, disability accessibility strategies are being implemented. Mobility accessibility is a priority at Dellwood Gardens, a community garden integrated into a senior care facility and managed by the organization Urban Roots. Dellwood gardens uses raised beds and wide aisles to accommodate residents of differing mobility, and includes both indoor and outdoor gardens as to provide access to people with different health conditions that could prevent them from going outside. Pilgrim Baptist’s garden also includes a wheelchair accessible hoop house.
Gardens are made accessible for those with chronic illness and fatigue through resting spaces, tools, and community support. The Lily Pad garden in Frogtown is focused on elders, who typically need these kinds of accessibility. Shade, benches, picnic tables, and resting are all included at the Lily Pad. Frogtown Farm uses another strategy to support those with chronic illness. Each week throughout the growing season they host ‘Community Farm Nights’ where people can come and drop in to help the farm crew with no commitment. This makes it easier for people with unpredictable or low energy levels to be able to contribute to and experience gardening.

Supporting minority communities is another central aspect of Sick Woman Theory, and many Twin Cities urban agriculture organizations. The Hmong American Farmers Association (HAFA) is working towards this goal, and is also one of the largest forces in local food production. Hmong-American farmers make up over half of all producers at farmers markets in the Twin Cities area, despite considerable challenges to farming. HAFA works with farmers to overcome the challenges of breaking into agriculture in a country they may not have been born in, or are facing oppression and cultural barriers in. Land access, new markets, trainings and capacity building, financing, and research and data collection are the main ways HAFA works to empower and build intergenerational wealth in Hmong-American communities.
Above all, the most influential way to include Sick Women in urban agriculture is to ask what they need and work to accommodate that. Being receptive and willing to work with people whoever they are can help to bring new skills and knowledge to the garden. Community support and acknowledgment can help to create a better environment for everyone to work in.

Caption: 318 Victoria St, Saint Paul, MN
Centrally located in the heart of the Old Historic Rondo community, on the corner of No. Victoria and & Concordia. Garden leader, Adrienne Hannert, owns this lot with her husband, and started the community garden about 6 years ago hoping to “build community among neighbors through something positive, beautiful and healthy.” It has been nurtured from a grass covered empty space into a growing, vibrant community garden full of plots and raised beds where surrounding neighborhood members grow fresh food and community.

Caption: Dellwood Gardens partnered with Urban Roots to establish a gardening program for our residents. Get your hands dirty and learn more about the food we grow—and eat—in our community. Our indoor and outdoor gardens offer a chance to get some fresh air or find moments of emotional serenity.

Caption: We have finished Community Farm Nights for the 2018 season. Thank you to all who joined us in our mission of cultivating soil and community in Frogtown.

“Community Farm Night.” Frogtown Farm. Accessed April 7, 2019.
“Frogtowngreen | Programs.” frogtowngreen. Accessed April 8, 2019.
Hagey, Allison, Solana Rice, and Rebecca Flournoy. “Growing Urban Agriculture: Equitable Strategies and Policies for Improving Access to Healthy Food and Revitalizing Communities,” 2012.
Hedva, Johanna. “Sick Woman Theory.” Mask Magazine. Accessed January 15, 2019.
“Our Work | Hmong American Farmers Association.” Accessed April 7, 2019.
Santo, Rachel, Anne Palmer, and Brent Kim. “Vacant Lots to Vibrant Plots: A Review of the Benefits and Limitations of Urban Agriculture,” May 2016.
“Senior Life Enrichment | Dellwood Gardens.” Accessed April 7, 2019.

No comments:

Post a Comment